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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 12:55 GMT
Spiritual return for Bolivian monolith
Statue being transported
The 17-tonne statue has travelled 100km home
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By Andrew Enever in La Paz

There was a terrible storm on 3 July 1932, the day that Bennett, a 1,700-year-old, seven-metre high monolith was taken from its place of origin on the Bolivian Altiplano to the city of La Paz.

As Bennett made its glorious return to the village of Tiwanaku, the skies opened again to greet him.

But in contrast to the sadness that characterised the 1932 storm, Saturday's downpour could do nothing to dampen the ecstatic mood of the Aymara people who came from the 23 communities around Tiwanaku and further afield to welcome back this important religious icon.

Local people celebrated with music and dancing
"It is with immense joy that we are able to receive our monolith our Jach'a Pacha [huge deity]," said Mayor Tito Flores to the crowd of hundreds who had escorted the ancient statue on its spiritual 100km-journey home.

"Tiwanaku has long awaited this day, and so you find us in celebration, but also giving thanks and blessing, that our Pacha Mama [mother earth] has sent this rain for our fields and our cattle."

Turbulent history

It is more than 60 years since Bennett was placed in an open-air temple outside the national stadium.

During this time the monolith, named after the American archaeologist who found it, has witnessed and endured possibly the most volatile half-century in the history of Bolivia's capital.

The statue has been caught in the crossfire

The body of the 17-tonne statue carries the marks of more than 20 bullets that missed their target in social uprisings including the 1952 revolution and the "coup de etat" of ex-President Banzer in 1971.

In more recent years it has suffered the effects of pollution and of acidic pigeon faeces that have eaten away at the features of the face and body.

That Bennett suffered such abuses signifies a tragic fall from grace for what archaeologists believe to have been one of the most important religious icons in the ancient city of Tiwanaku.

Powerful empire

The city was the administrative and religious heart of a pre-Incan civilisation that began in the year 237 BC and endured for over 1400 years.

During its peak (724- 1172 AD) the Tiwanakan Empire covered nearly all of Bolivia, Northern Chile and Southern Peru, ruling over more than three million subjects.

But since the arrival of the Spanish over 400 years ago, the ancient city has been decimated by icon-destroying religious zealots, British railway builders who broke relics to use as foundations for the tracks, and archaeologists who shipped many of the best pieces back to European and US museums or sold them into private collections.

Many braved the weather to welcome Bennett home
It is believed that Bennett was erected by the people of Tiwanaku in 373 AD, at the centre of an important temple, in honour of one of their great leaders and warriors.

"When you consider its location in Tiwanaku it is clear that this piece was an important religious icon," said Eduardo Parejas, the archaeologist who directed the operation to move Bennett.

"That truth still exists in the collective memory of the Aymara people."

The living significance of Bennett was in full evidence throughout its last journey.

Crowds celebrate

From the crowds that gathered to be part of the statue's last night in La Paz, to the hundreds who waited the next morning in the Aymara city of El Alto, it was clear that this was no relic of the past.

But nothing in the cities could compare with the sense of anticipation in the communities surrounding Tiwanaku.

Thirteen-year-old Etzo had been waiting for six hours with the rest of his community on the road to Tiwanaku. He had sat through rain and cold wind but his enthusiasm was unquashable.

This is the monolith's place of origin and here it should stay for eternity

Amanto Lucas Choque general, Tiwanaku
"I've never seen the monolith," he told me, as we stared into the distance trying to catch the first glimpse of the truck carrying the statue across the altiplano.

As the truck came into view smiles were on every face, as the normally stoic Aymara let their joy show.

Music started playing and people dancing, and as the truck pulled up the delighted crowd showered Bennett with yellow and pink petals.

From there the party really started as a procession of colourfully dressed dancers and musicians led the monolith down the people-lined road into Tiwanaku.

"Today is a joy for us", said Amanto Lucas Choque general coordinator of the Coucil of Tiwanaku. "This is the monolith's place of origin and here it should stay for eternity."

See also:

07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bolivia
01 Mar 02 | Americas
Bolivia counts storm damage
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